Alice in Wonderland tea set @ Royal/T

Yes, I’m going thru my backlog of pictures…*phew*….

Back in March, I heard that Royal/T, the Japanese maid cafe in Culver City was offering an Alice in Wonderland tea set for the month.  Since Husband works down the street from the place and he worked on the movie, I insisted we go one day for lunch.

I’ll let the pictures do most of the talking..er…writing?

Outside Royal/T

Wall o' tea canisters

I know what I'm ordering...

Anime-ish Alice n' friends

Maid to order

It said "Drink me" so I did...

The complete tea set

Canapes were cut up into card suite shapes

These canapes were pretty good. The bread was a little crispy from toasting and all the toppings were flavorful. I’m always a smoked salmon fan. There was also an egg salad, tuna salad and one other thing I can’t quite recall.

I adored that little mushroom...and the macaron

The sign did say purple macaron but, as you can see, I ended up with a green one. It was vanilla flavored and really good.  There was a mini chocolate cupcake with a small “Eat me” sign, just like the big one on top.  The mushroom was a meringue, I think, and so cute.  They even painted the bottom with little stripes to make it look as mushroom-y as possible!  I was hoping for a Caterpillar to come along, sit on top of it with his hookah and ask “Whooooooooooo are yoooooooooooooouuuu?”

Why yes, I think I will...

This cupcake was vanilla flavored with a cream cheese type frosting and cinnamon. Looking at another version of the tea set someone else had ordered, they ended up with a chocolate one and a mini vanilla one. While the cupcake was moist, I found it had too much frosting.  But then again, I’m not a huge frosting person to begin with…

Husband ordered one of Royal/T’s beers and the Kobe beef burger sans the veggies.  Apparently, the burgers have gotten juicier since our first visit.  My little slider dribbled down my hand and Husband had a slightly messy time.  His coworker ended up having some juice fall in his lap.

beer

Kobe beef burger

I’ve always had a great meal at Royal/T and this time was no exception. I really enjoyed the tea set and admired the attention to detail that was paid to the decoration and execution of it.  While it did satisfy my hunger, the amount of food didn’t fill me up. $25 was a little bit pricy for what I got, I think, but for the novelty and fun I had working my way thru eating it, I was okay paying the price.

Service this time around was a little better but still, lunch here can run over an hour due to waiting around for your order to be taken or food to be served.

4 1/2 NOMs for an awesome special tea set!
Royal/T gets an upgrade from 3 NOMs to 3 1/2 NOMs.  Service here can still improve and the prices, while not unreasonable, do fall on the high end for what you get.

Royal/T
8910 Washington Blvd
Culver City, CA 90232
(310) 559-6300
http://www.royal-t.org/
Royal/T Café on Urbanspoon

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K-Zo

I must be missing something…  According to the reviews on Yelp, this place is supposed to be a great sushi restaurant.  But what I found was okay food for a high price…

Husband’s work was showing “Shutter Island” for free so we decided to take a break from packing and catch a flick as well as dinner.  He suggested K-Zo which was around the corner from his office in Culver City.

K-Zo sushi bar

When we got there, it was pretty empty as they had just opened for dinner.  The interior is very stark and modern.  I was amused by the one table that was hidden behind a curtain of beads/chains.  Guess that’s for customers who really want their privacy…  There’s a bar right by the door for cocktails, a row of tables along the windowed wall and a very long sushi bar with 3 chefs working when we were there.

Cocktails and an Asian Parmer

Since the Husband doesn’t do sushi, we sat at a table.  Cocktails were ordered first.  I opted to try a peach sochu cocktail as well as their “Asian Parmer” (green tea and lemonade).  Husband had some sort of cosmo drink.  The Asian Parmer (hahahaaa…) was actually pretty good, with more lemonade than green tea.  I liked my peach drink as well and had a slight buzz going.  What can I say?  I’m a bit of a lightweight…

First thing I noticed when looking at the sushi form and the menu were the prices.  The cheapest nigiri on the list was the Gyoku (egg) and the smelt roe at $4/2 pieces.  Most of the common types like salmon, tuna (maguro), yellowtail (hamachi) and freshwater eel (unagi) were $5-6.  A little bit more than what I am used to paying…  The standard menu is comprised of salads, appetizers and what they called “small plates”.  Think Japanese style tapas.  There are 2 prix fixe options at $58 or $78/pp – hors d’oeuvres, sashimi salad, entree, sushi, dessert and premium tea/coffee.

Salmon, Hamachi, Monkfish liver

I ordered some salmon, hamachi, scallop and monkfish liver (ankimo) nigiri while the other half went with the braised pork belly and popcorn shrimp “small plates”.  The salmon was okay but came out warmer than it should have been…almost as if the rice hadn’t quite cooled down enough.  The hamachi slices looked somewhat mangled and one piece was heavy on the wasabi.

Monkfish liver (ankimo) nigiri

I had never had monkfish liver before; this was my first time seeing it on a menu so I had to try it.  The liver is cooked via steaming.  Layered on a bed of rice and wrapped with seaweed, the ankimo was topped with a little ponzu and scallions.  It was very light flavor-wise and had a velvety smooth texture, sort of like tofu.  Overall, this was a very lovely piece of nigiri…  Not sure if I would order it again, though, due to the endangered nature of monkfish but I had to try it at least once since ankimo is considered a delicacy.

Braised pork belly

As for Husband’s dishes, I found the braised pork belly a little on the dry side.  This piece was chopped up into smaller pieces and the ones more towards the inside were a little juicier.  The flavor was okay, maybe could have benefitted from a touch more salt.  I think what I had at Wa Okan in San Diego was better and easier on the wallet.  The Husband liked it, though, and protested when I took more than one bite.   Hasn’t he heard that what’s his is mine?  Hehehe…

Popcorn shrimp

The popcorn shrimp ($8.50) was great.  The batter was light and really let the shrimpy taste shine thru.  The coating could have been crispier but otherwise, this was awesome.  I didn’t even bother using the aoili dressing they served along side since the nuggets alone were had a lot of flavor.  There was a good amount of shrimp in this basket, also, making it worth the price.

I do not think "fondant" means what you think it means...

Since we were still hungry, we opted to get dessert.  Husband went for the chocolate fondant – a chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream.  I selected the K-Zo purple potato specialty dessert thingy, a glass with ice cream, sweet purple potato puree, red bean, mochi, almonds and 2 strawberry Pocky sticks.

Husband liked his chocolate fondant (odd name for a pudding-like cake dessert since fondant is something else in the pastry world).  The bite I had was okay.  It was chocolate-y and slightly bitter.  But overall, it was really just an average chocolate dessert.

Purple people eater

I enjoyed my dessert as it definitely had an Asian flare to it with the red beans and mochi…sort of reminded me of the ices you find at the tea shops.

Service was great and our food arrived quickly, though I could see that potentially slowing down the more crowded the restaurant is, especially for sushi orders.

For what we got, quality-wise, I thought K-Zo was overpriced.  While everything tasted okay, I didn’t think it was worth the $100 bill we were handed.  I think I’ll explore other sushi options in the area first before coming back here.

3 NOMs for K-Zo.

K-Zo
9240 Culver Blvd.
Culver City CA 90232
(310) 202-8890
K-Zo Japanese on Urbanspoon

Hawaii: Imari at the Hilton Waikoloa

During our anniversary trip to the Big Island, Husband and I stayed at the Hilton Waikoloa resort. This hotel was built when I still lived on the island and I remember taking family trips to this place to ride the tram and boats and watch the dolphins; it was a treat and a trip down memory lane to stay here.

Lagoon

This natural lagoon is filled with a reef and lots of fish.  People can rent kayaks, snorkel gear, paddle boats and other water gear.  Husband and I went snorkeling on our last full day and saw eels, angelfish, humuhumunukunukuapua’a (reef triggerfish) and even a sea turtle!  Very cool…

View from our room lanai

One of the many animals that live at the Hilton Waikoloa

Dolphin at the Dolphin Quest lagoon

There’s a dolphin encounter type type deal at the Hilton Waikoloa.  We didn’t do it due to the prices but we did watch some people and kids take part.

One of the perks of staying here was the availability of several fine dining options for dinner.  Since we arrived late Thursday afternoon, we decided to stay on the resort grounds for dinner.  We chose to eat at Imari which serves Japanese cuisine. For some reason, I thought we ate here on Saturday but apparently not based on the photos’ dates. I’m getting old…

Built to look like a traditional tea house, this place offers a sushi bar, a teppanyaki style experience, or regular table dining. Since we ended up arriving for a late meal due to the time difference between California and Hawaii, we could not partake in the teppanyaki fun and Husband doesn’t do sushi so…

Edamame

Everything on the menu looked really good so I decided to go for the Omakase Bento which ended up being a 3-course meal and had variety. Since I didn’t realize just how much food the Omakase Bento would end up being, I also got a side order of abalone nigiri (something I don’t often see and have never eaten) and the seared ahi tuna appetizer which was a special that night. Husband got edamame to munch on, one of the few vegetables he will eat.

Zaru soba

My first course arrived – zaru soba, a few slices of sashimi and a bit of other stuff – seaweed, tofu, edamame and a crab mixture with a sweet sauce. The soba noodles were perfectly cooked, retaining a bit of firmness without being hard.

Sashimi

The sashimi was fantastic…beautiful fresh cuts of fresh tuna and hamachi (yellowtail).

Japanese "banchan"??

The crab mixture was delicious.  I think the black stuff in the foil cup was a type of seaweed and the green stuff down on the bottom was another type of seaweed salad, both yummy.

Seared Ahi

Abalone nigiri

The seared tuna arrived and oh my goodness! I’ve had “seared” ahi before where the fish was just shy of being fully cooked. This was not the case with Imari’s version. The fish looked like it had been gently touched by flame and had a wonderful peppery crust that made each bite burst with flavor and gave it a kick. It did mask the ahi a little bit, though. I convinced the husband to try a little bite and even he liked it! Shocking, considering he doesn’t like raw/rare and cold meat. This dish was the best one of the meal.

The abalone nigiri was delivered, beautifully plated. I wasn’t sure what to expect so I was caught off guard by the crunchiness of it. But it was delicious, delicate in flavor.

Grilled Hawaiian Opa with sweet potato mash

For my “main course”, I got a piece of grilled Hawaiian Opa with a sweet potato-taro mash, asparagus spear and tempura. The fish flaked easily and had a nice light flavor. I enjoyed the mash but the asparagus was tough.

Tempura

The tempura was lightly battered, crispy and was not heavy with oil.

Stacked dishes with daikon and rice

They also brought out rice and a little dish with daikon and other pickled vegetables.

Steak

dessert

My husband had ordered a steak which was served with mashed potatoes and shiitake mushrooms (which he quickly off-loaded onto my plate). The bite of beef I got to try was flavorful, tender and moist despite being well done (I’m a medium-rare/medium type of gal…).

To end the meal, the Omakase Bento comes with a choice of ice cream flavor. I opted for green tea. I was expecting a small bowl with a single scoop but ended up with a bowl containing 3 scoops and crisp fan-shaped wafers. The smooth and creamy ice cream had really good green tea flavor. Sadly, I was so stuffed that I couldn’t finish off this dessert and ended up leaving half of it. I tried…

If you ever find yourself in the Waikoloa area, I highly recommend stopping in at Imari for dinner. It’s a lovely dining experience. The food is top-notch and the service impeccable. It is pricey, with main courses costing around $35-40 on average. I found the Omakase Bento ($45) to be the best quantity for the cost and it was pretty tasty.

5 NOMs for Imari!

Imari
Hilton Waikoloa Village
69-425 Waikoloa Beach Dr.
Waikoloa, Hawaii 96738
Reservations: (808) 886-1234

Imari (Hilton Waikoloa Village) on Urbanspoon

Back from Hiatus – Tsuruhashi!

For those of you who have been wondering where I’ve been, I was flattened by a nasty little bug and then ran over by a final project for my class. But we’re much better (except for a lingering cough) and my project has been turned in.

So where did we leave off? *flips thru photos* Let’s review…Tsuruhashi!

Tsuruhashi is a Yakiniku place on Convoy Street in San Diego. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, think of Yakiniku as the Japanese version of Korean BBQ.  The restaurant is tucked away in a small shopping center filled with plenty of restaurants and very easy to miss.  I recommend you don’t as it was good eats.

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Tsuruhashi - interior

The interior is very small.  It’s filled with about 8 booths like in the picture and 3 tables.  Because of the size, or lack thereof, and the fact that they are only open for dinner, stick to small groups or go early.  Large groups should definitely go early so they can grab the 3 tables which are movable; otherwise, the group will end up being split between booths.  Tsuruhashi does not accept reservations and can get quite busy, especially on the weekends.

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Tsuruhashi - table grill

On each table is a grill.  In case you don’t know, Yakiniku involves you cooking your own food.  You order cuts of meat or seafood and grill them.  At Korean BBQ restaurants, side dishes (panchan) and rice is included.  At Tsuruhashi, you have to purchase these things separately.  My friend and I opted to skip the panchan and just order rice.  The panchan menu consisted of a variety of kimchis, seaweed, marinated garlic, and green leaf lettuce with a miso sauce.

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Tsuruhashi - Meat Special

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Tsuruhashi - Seafood Mix

Tsuruhashi’s menu boasts some wonderful cuts of meat.  There are a couple of US Kobe offerings, several types of USDA Prime beef, pork, chicken and some more exotic choices like organ meats, tripe and tongue.  There’s also a seafood mix and a couple of vegetable-only dishes.  They also offer some soup, noodle and rice dishes.

We noticed a special on the menu that’s offered only Monday thru Thursday before 8pm.  For $23, you get ribeye, skirt steak, boneless short rib and chicken.  My friend and I opted for that and an order of the seafood mix ($9.50).  The ribeye and skirt steak were not marinated. However, we were provided with two standard “sauces” to dip in.  I believe one was sesame-based.

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Tsuruhashi - Chicken and Boneless Short Rib

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Tsuruhashi - Ribeye and Skirt Steak

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Tsuruhashi - Shrimp

The beef had nice marbling and color.  Because the pieces weren’t big (two bites), they cooked quickly.  I recommend keeping an eye on the meat.  Otherwise, you may end up with overcooked beef and that would just be sad.  The ribeye and skirt steak were pretty tender; there definitely is a difference between grades and USDA Prime is gooood.  The short rib was a little tough and chewy, though, so that was a little disappointing.  The chicken was marinated and had good flavor.  This was a decent dish for people who want to sample a few different things or aren’t adventurous in trying the more exotic cuts like tongue.

The seafood was wonderfully fresh.  We grilled the salmon and calamari first.  The salmon was okay and really could have benefited from a marinade or even salt and pepper.  I love mussels and these were great.  The shrimp were huge.  Because they are whole, you do have to peel them.  The scallops seared quite nicely and were plump.  For the price, this was quite a good deal.

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Tsuruhashi - Black Sesame Ice Cream

The amount of food we ordered was decent for a comfortable meal.  However, I was enticed by the offering of black sesame ice cream ($1.50).  Having never encountered it before, I couldn’t pass this up.  I’m so glad I ordered a scoop as this was the highlight of the meal.  It reminded me of coffee ice cream without the acidity.  Not too sweet, creamy…a perfect way to end the meal.

The Catty Critic gives Tsuruhashi 4 NOMs.

Tsuruhashi Japanese BBQ
3904 Convoy St
(between Kearny Mesa Rd & Ostrow St)
San Diego, CA 92111
(858) 279-8929
http://www.tsuruhashibbq.com
Tsuruhashi Japanese BBQ on Urbanspoon

Nozomi Sushi and Teriyaki

Nozomi

Nozomi

When Nozomi first opened, I used to come here a lot because their sushi rolls were cheap, tasty and HUUUUGE. As my taste buds migrated to preferring nigiri, I stopped coming here.  Last week, I wandered back for dinner last night with a friend. I noticed that while they still had their mile-long list of specialty rolls and non-sushi menu, they had added an “all you can eat” sushi option for $25-ish. Starving, my friend and I chose to try it out. BIG MISTAKE. I’ve been to different sushi restaurants in San Diego that had all you can eat options and was never disappointed…till now.

Nozomi - nigiri (scallops, salmon, albacore, hamachi, tuna, unagi)

Nozomi - nigiri (scallops, salmon, albacore, hamachi, tuna, unagi)

Nozomi - Rolls (Dragon and ???)

Nozomi - Rolls (Dragon and ???)

The nigiri and some of the rolls are half-portions, meaning instead of the usual two pieces of nigiri, you only get one. Not really a problem…just got to remember to mark twice as much as you wanted. The huge issue was the quality. It was like they wanted to get rid of whatever old fish they had lying around. The nigiri didn’t taste fresh at all and frankly, some of it was disgusting. The rolls were better because there were other things like sauce to mask some of that fishy flavor.

I ordered an amaebi nigiri and this was probably the most foul thing of the night. There was still a piece of shell. The flavor seemed…off and I almost spit it out. The shrimp head wasn’t fried enough either.

The quality of Nozomi seems to have gone down and yet this place was packed. Frankly, even though the rolls were still okay, after that horrible nigiri experience, I’m not sure I’m keen on coming back here.

The location in the La Jolla/UTC area (Nozomi 2) seems to still retain some sense of fish quality as only a couple of weeks before, I shared a sashimi platter with a coworker and was quite happy with it. I think I’ll stick with that location instead of the Convoy St. one. Also, there seems to be some differences in the menus between the two Nozomis.

I would have given Nozomi a higher rating before but after this visit, they only get 2 NOMs from the Catty Critic.

Nozomi
4637 Convoy St
San Diego, CA 92111
(858) 569-7773
Nozomi Noodle & Teriyaki on Urbanspoon

OKAN revisited

After my first visit, I knew I had to come back to OKAN. And bring friends. More people must know about OKAN and eat there!

On my 2nd visit, the same coworker came along and I dragged two friends with us.  Since one of them was a pescatarian, we stuck mostly with vegetarian or fish dishes.  This time around, we ordered:
– 2 Kabocha pumpkin salads
– eggplant
– Braised pork – Nagasaki style ($8.50)
– Pan-fried pork homemade dumplings ($5.50)
– Grilled Hamachi cheek ($12.50)
– Green tea tiramisu
– Pudding with black honey
We also ended up with some grilled hamachi ($8.50) because the waitress didn’t realize we wanted the cheek.

So we ended up ordering pretty much all the same stuff as last time, but it’s because it was all amazingly delicious!!

OKAN - Kabocha salad

OKAN - Kabocha salad

The Kabocha pumpkin salad was as good as I remembered.  I pretty much ate almost an entire bowl on my own.  This is one of the “must order” dishes if you ever visit this restaurant.  There’s just something about the perfectly cooked kabocha paired with the crunchy cucumber and whatever seasoning they use that makes this dish magical.

OKAN - Egglplant

OKAN - Eggplant

The next dish was the eggplant.  We attacked the bowl before I got around to taking the picture.  While it does not look appetizing, it was pretty good.  The eggplant was nicely cooked and seasoned and had a lot of flavor though the texture was mushy.  I think this may be a “special” menu item rather than a regular one as I don’t recall seeing it last time I was dining here.

OKAN - Braised pork Nagasaki style

OKAN - Braised pork Nagasaki style

Here’s a much better picture than in the previous post of the Braised Pork Nagasaki style.  I would consider this another “must order” dish for OKAN diners.  This really showcases how well the chef(s) at this restaurant handle red meat.  The pork is perfectly cooked; it’s got lots of flavor and is never dry.  I like how they leave a thin layer of fat as that just adds to succulence of this dish.

OKAN - salt and green tea salt

OKAN - Salt and green tea salt

At this point, the waitress brought us grilled yellowtail.  We had ordered the cheek but that seemed to have gotten lost.  We told her we would eat it anyways since it was already at our table but we still wanted the cheek.  The grilled yellowtail (which I apologize for failing to nab a photo of…it was a beautiful piece of fish!) came with a side of salt and green tea salt.  I didn’t think the fish needed it as it was already seasoned well and had a bit of a soy sauce-based glaze on it.  I had to try the green tea salt.  Sadly, green tea being such a mild flavor, you didn’t really taste it.

OKAN - pan fried pork dumplings

OKAN - Pan-fried pork dumplings

OKAN - pan-fried pork dumpling

OKAN - Pan-fried pork dumpling filling

The homemade pan-fried pork dumplings arrived shortly after we devoured the grilled yellow tail.  These were nicely fried with a crispy bottom.  The wrapper was not sticky or chewy and the filling was moist.  As you can see, there’s quite a bit of green stuff in there.  I think that overpowered the pork a little.  Not the best dumplings I’ve had but better than some I’ve had at other places.  If these were home-made, I couldn’t tell, because they were assembled as neatly as the store bought ones.  The only thing that would convince me that this was home-made is the filling as I’ve never tasted anything quite like it.  I’m not sure what the green vegetable in it was but it had a slightly peculiar taste I was not familiar with.  I would have asked but the waitresses barely spoke English. Most of the patrons are Japanese, which, in my book, is a sure sign that OKAN serves good and authentic cuisine.

OkAN - Grilled Hamachi Cheek

OkAN - Grilled hamachi cheek

Our hamachi cheek arrived and it was just as good as last time.  Consistency!!  The top skin was cooked to a crisp; the meat inside was moist.  And as before, this was a huge serving.  The four of us did a number on this dish but we were already getting full from the previous entrees.  One thing about OKAN is that even though you think you’re not getting a lot because the servings seem small and you’re sharing, you’re actually getting quite a lot of good food for a great price.

OKAN - green tea tiramisu

OKAN - Green tea tiramisu

OKAN - pudding with black honey

OKAN - Pudding with black honey

This time, they had the green tea tiramisu available.  We ordered that as well as the pudding with black honey.

The green tea tiramisu suffered an assault from 4 spoons before I remembered to take a picture so the perfect square was ruined.  However, you can see the nice green tea layers and the fluffiness of the lady fingers.  This was a tasty and light dessert.  You could actually taste the green tea which was nice.  However, I think the pudding is better.  The black honey…mmmmmm. For dessert, the pudding is imperative.

Overall, this was a better meal than my first visit because we didn’t have that horrible tuna and avocado roll.  The service was spectacular as always minus the order mix-up which actually turned out to be beneficial for us because we got to eat another great dish!

OKAN gets upgraded to 5 NOMs!!!

Wa Dining OKAN
3860 Convoy St., #110
San Diego, CA 92111
(858) 279-0941
http://okanus.com
Wa Dining Okan on Urbanspoon

Decent inexpensive sushi in San Diego – Convoy Sushi & Fish Market

If you want decent inexpensive sushi, you can’t go wrong with Convoy Sushi & Fish Market.  I went here for lunch with some coworkers. One of them and I split
– a Rainbow box
– 3 orders of nigiri
– Kalbi appetizer
– two handrolls
and were comfortably full.

Convoy Sushi & Fish Market - Rainbow Box

Convoy Sushi & Fish Market - Rainbow Box

The Rainbow box contains a rainbow roll, half a spicy tuna roll, some edamame and seaweed salad…all for $5. You can’t get a rainbow roll for $5 at most sushi restaurants! I won’t lie, this wasn’t the best RR I’ve had; the crab was a little overpowering. But the fish was fresh, the roll nicely packed, and the rice seasoned and cooked just right.  This would make for an okay sushi lunch for a tight budget.

Salmon, Yellowtail, Tuna nigiri

Salmon, Yellowtail, Tuna nigiri

For the nigiri, we ordered salmon, hamachi (yellowtail) and tuna. These were also pretty good and tasted fresh. The fish to rice ratio was good although I’m used to more fish and less rice thanks to Sushi n’ Joy.  I had a spicy tuna hand roll and wished it had a little bit more of a kick to it but it was still good and rather plump. For $2.50-3.50 an order, this was a pretty good deal.

Kalbi "appetizer"

Kalbi "appetizer"

The Kalbi appetizer was a surprise. I was expecting a small plate with a few pieces of kalbi but instead, we got what could easily be a lunch entree for a single person. Rice, a good amount of marinated short ribs and kimchi filled the plate. The ribs were tender and well-marinated. The kimchi was good and slightly on the spicy side. And this was only $5-6.

The service was great. I never had to ask for a water refill. Our food arrived rather quickly (though I think it helped that it wasn’t super busy) as well.

I expect to come here more often as this is a quick, cheap place to get both good sushi for the price and delicious hot entrees.  It isn’t the best sushi and won’t compare to places like Sushi Ota but the price vs. quality makes this a bargain and worth coming to when you want sushi but have a thin wallet.

4 NOMs for Convoy Sushi & Fish Market because the bargain hunter in me was happy.

Convoy Sushi & Fish Market
7905 Engineer Rd
(between Brinell St & Mercury St)
San Diego, CA 92111
(858) 634-3233
www.fishnsushi.com
Convoy Sushi & Fish Market on Urbanspoon